Presented by Guess Blogger: Jennifer Browne
Let’s face it: nobody likes to discuss their gut. Why would they? The word “gut” evokes images of churned-up food and what it eventually turns into. Yuck, right? But the importance of gut health is often overlooked—especially in western culture. We’re too cool to care, and because of that, a giant percentage of us are paying the price. In fact, the number of people in the United States who suffer from chronic constipation is approximately 15%.
So, what’s gut got to do with it? Believe it or not, the health of your bowel is absolutely critical in determining how healthy your whole body is. Basically, if you’re tummy’s happy, your entire body follows suit. This is because of three major factors:
Your gut is host to trillions of bacteria that will either help or hinder your immune system response. Your bowel is immune-system central. Those with an unhealthy gut will get sick more often than those with a clean and healthy one. I’m not just talking about common colds or flus—I’m referring to chronic illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, some cancers, diabetes, and even seemingly un-related diseases, such as arthritis and MS.
“Researchers at the University of Toronto have found an explanation for how the intestinal tract influences a key component of the immune system to prevent infection, offering a potential clue to the cause of autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.”
Our bowel contains good (friendly) bacteria and bad bacteria. The purpose of the good bacteria is to fight anything that arrives in the gut that might make us sick. They also lower the pH around the wall of the gut, in an attempt to make that area inhabitable to bad bacteria and anything that may be harmful to us. They work directly with immune cells, and actually communicate with each other in order to decide if an immune system response (inflammation) is warranted or not.
When bad bacteria, or a virus, or anything else that may be cause for concern is found, the good bacteria are deployed to fight and destroy that bad guys. If they are not winning the fight, then immune system cells are called to action and create inflammation, which is designed to pinpoint the area of invasion and help solve the problem.
When we have a chronic issue, such as long-term constipation, we become chronically inflamed, because our immune system thinks that we are constantly fighting. This becomes a major problem, primarily because it exhausts our immune system, helps bad bacteria become used to this response, and therefore makes us more prone to more chronic illness.
It’s a vicious cycle. You can help your gut increase the number of good bacteria by taking regular prebiotic and probiotic supplements.
By keeping your bowel clean and healthy through regular elimination and absorption of simple and pure nutrients, you give your immune system the best chance at operating properly.
Contrary to popular belief, the “happy hormone” serotonin is produced not only your brain, but also in your bowel. Actually, it is estimated that approximately 95% of the serotonin in your body is produced in your gut:
“Gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.”
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is most commonly known to affect mood. Levels have been found to be very low in those diagnosed with depression or seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D). Often, anti-depressants such as Prozac and Zoloft are prescribed to supplement those who are in need of more serotonin. 
However, cleaning up your gut and increasing the regularity of one’s bowel movements have been shown to increase serotonin levels and decrease the need for antidepressants.
“Some research suggests that IBS patients who suffer mainly from diarrhea may have increased serotonin levels in the gut, while those with constipation-predominant IBS have decreased amounts.”
I’m not suggesting that diarrhea is awesome; just highlighting the point that regular elimination contributes to heightened levels of serotonin.
Nobody wants to suffer from diarrheal circumstances, but by not accumulating stool in the colon, you can increase your number of happy days.
Who doesn’t want more of those?!
Toxins that we take into our body every day, whether it is through our food, air, or chemicals that get absorbed through our skin, convene in our gut to party. The act of elimination expels those toxins so that our body doesn’t absorb them. If you’re not having a bowel movement at least once a day, you are hosting toxins that will make their way into your bloodstream and affect other parts of your body. This is commonly referred to as “toxic overload,” and it also occurs in other organs too, such as your liver and kidneys.
We eliminate these toxins by expelling them through our skin (sweating), urinating, and defecating. This is why exercise is great (it makes you sweat), you’re advised to drink a lot of water (in order to increase urination), and it’s crucial that you are regular in the bowel department.
You can accumulate up to 5-10 pounds of fecal matter in your intestines if you’re not having regular bowel movements. If for no other reason, that’s a great incentive to begin paying attention to the frequency of your bowel movements.
So, what are some healthy ways to relieve constipation? (Please don’t reach for the Ex-Lax!)
1- Drink plenty of water and herbal tea. This helps to flush out your bowel and loosen hard stool.
2- Consume a ton of vegetables and whole grains. Whole grains (like brown, sprouted rice, quinoa and oats) help to sweep your colon clean. They are essential.
3- Exercise. By just walking regularly, you stimulate the bowel, and massage other organs, too.
4- De-stress. Stress is very hard on your body. It messes with our sleep, or tummies, and our moods. Try and take the time to relax often. Conscious breathing helps with this. Close your eyes, and slowly inhale for a count of ten, then pause, and slowly exhale for another ten. Repeat ten times. For more information on this particular practice, visit this link on conscious breathing.
5- Try a whole food, plant-based diet. This diet has been proven time and time again to be the most effective at keeping a clean digestive tract. Why? Because the foods eaten on this diet are very easy for your body to process, and the nutrients provided are easily absorbed. Foods like fruits, veggies, beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains are amazing for your body. Meat and dairy are not digested well, and often are the root cause of a malfunctioning digestive system.
Bottom line? Don’t take bowel health for granted—it can be your biggest ally against all types of health ailments. Make sure you’re regular, and you will greatly increase your chances of bypassing unnecessary affliction.
Contributed by Jennifer Browne, who is an advocate for digestive health and wellness. Her first book on digestive health, Happy Healthy Gut, is being released on January 2, 2014. It’s available for pre-order on amazon.com. Visit her Facebook page, tweet her @jennifer_browne, or find her on her website at www.jenniferbrowne.org.